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Sunday, 05 February 2017 00:00

Motorsport legend: Captain Peter Janson

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Meet Peter Janson, expat New Zealander, part of Melbourne's social elite, friend of royals, instigator of the Melbourne Cup's social scene and one of the great characters to participate in the Bathurst 1000.

V8X Supercar Magazine chats with Janson about his life on and off the race track in issue #96.

Issue #96 is on sale now in stores with the digital edition available in the official V8X app (in the App Store and Google Play), online at DigitalEdition.V8XMagazine.com.au and in the Magzter app store.

CLICK HERE for more information on V8X Supercar Magazine issue #96.

International men of mystery don't slow down; they just get older. And so it is for Australian touring-car racing's most famous gentleman racer, the inimitable Captain Peter Janson.

When we first made contact with Janson for this story he couldn't talk. Something about hosting an old mate from his rallying days in Melbourne. Maybe we could chat later. The mate? Rauno Aaltonen. Yes, that Rauno Aaltonen. Take it as read that whatever you are doing with your life now, Janson is still more windswept and interesting.

So how was it catching up with the Finnish rallying great? "It was great," says Janson. "He's a lovely person and a very dear friend. Because, as you know, I rallied as well as raced."

Janson can't resist regaling us with an old rally tale he and Rauno still laugh about. "I went up there (Southern Cross Rally) and as usual I was a bit short of money, I had one full-time mechanic and about eight enthusiasts," says Janson.

"My mechanic said, 'We've only got the one set of tyres', so I said, 'I'm working on that'. So we went out there and I said, 'Go around and check Aaltonen, (Tommi) Makinen and all the boys, check their tyres, see which ones have the same size I have'.

"So he came back and it was Rauno's car. Well, at the end of every day the works cars, they'd just throw the tyres off and put a whole new set on. So we'd creep around the back, the boys would, and pinch the set they'd just thrown off and slam them on our car. We went the whole rally like that!

"Anyway, there was one fast stage where you could see us all go out and do it all again, and Rauno went out into the forest. I came over the top at a million miles... it was no tomorrow, you know, no tomorrow! And Rauno says, 'I was out there, Peter, your car goes very well there, it handles it. What kind of tyres have you got?' I said, 'Same as yours, Rauno!' He told everybody in Finland that one."

Janson hasn't slowed down yet, nor has he lost touch with the sport he once had a such a big hand in shaping.

"I still love motorsport; you can't get it out of your system, you just can't," he says. "(Jamie) Whincup's very good, he really puts in. And (Shane) van Gisbergen, he's terrific. In that Holden team, they're both crackers and they egg each other on, very much like (Daniel) Ricciardo and (Max) Verstappen do in Formula 1."

Motorsport is a broad church but Australian touring cars has never seen a racing driver quite like Janson. Indeed, 'racing driver', while sufficient to describe the likes of Peter Brock or Allan Moffat, is totally inadequate for a man with such an extraordinary lifestyle, character and track record in non-motorsport pursuits.

First there's his famously mysterious occupation and international-socialite status. Janson's oft-quoted response to questions about the former is "professional gentleman" (the 'Captain' nickname comes from an early army stint, apparently).

He has spent his life jet-setting around the globe and being chummy with the kind of people most of us only read about. He was close friends with Margaret Thatcher, used to fox hunt with Prince Charles and still regularly hosts parties that attract the upper strata of Melbourne society. Janson was the first person to set up a marquee at the Melbourne Cup, instigating its growth into the monster social event it is today.

He was the bell-weather of now-fashionable CBD living in Melbourne (he's been there since the late 1960s, first in the now-demolished Federal Hotel, then the Windsor Hotel and now Rutherglen House, a six-storey bluestone building tucked behind the Rialto skyscraper).

Amidst all that, Janson – who was born in New Zealand and grew up in Europe before settling in Melbourne – managed to eke out a motorsport career that plenty would be proud of had they done nothing else.

CLICK HERE to purchase the print edition of issue #96 to read the full feature.